Engineers Develop a Fossil Fuel Technology that Doesn't Pollute

Wednesday, January 3, 2018 - 10:07

Engineers at The Ohio State University are developing technologies that have the potential to economically convert fossil fuels and biomass into useful products including electricity without emitting carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

The engineers report that they've devised a process that transforms shale gas into products such as methanol and gasoline -- all while consuming carbon dioxide, ScienceDaily reports. This process can also be applied to coal and biomass to produce useful products.

Under certain conditions, the technology consumes all the carbon dioxide it produces plus additional carbon dioxide from an outside source. They report that they've found a way to greatly extend the lifetime of the particles that enable the chemical reaction to transform coal or other fuels to electricity and useful products over a length of time that is useful for commercial operation.

Finally, the same team has discovered and patented a way with the potential to lower the capital costs in producing a fuel gas called synthesis gas, or "syngas," by about 50 percent over the traditional technology.

The technology, known as chemical looping, uses metal oxide particles in high-pressure reactors to "burn" fossil fuels and biomass without the presence of oxygen in the air. The metal oxide provides the oxygen for the reaction.

Chemical looping is capable of acting as a stopgap technology that can provide clean electricity until renewable energies such as solar and wind become both widely available and affordable, the engineers said.

"The particle itself is a vessel, and it's carrying the oxygen back and forth in this process, and it eventually falls apart. Like a truck transporting goods on a highway, eventually it's going to undergo some wear and tear. And we're saying we devised a particle that can make the trip 3,000 times in the lab and still maintain its integrity," Tong said.

Another advancement involves the engineers' development of chemical looping for production of syngas, which in turn provides the building blocks for a host of other useful products including ammonia, plastics or even carbon fibers.

His co-authors on the first paper include postdoctoral researcher Mandar Kathe; undergraduate researchers Abbey Empfield, Peter Sandvik, Charles Fryer, and Elena Blair; and doctoral student Yitao Zhang. Co-authors on the second paper include doctoral student Cheng Chung, postdoctoral researcher Lang Qin, and master's student Vedant Shah. Collaborators on the pressure adjustment assembly work include Tong, Kathe and senior research associate Dawei Wang.

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